Do Romney’s ties to Bain Capital add up to a conservative talk radio advantage?

By now, most observers of the Republican presidential primary race have heard of Mitt Romney’s ties to Bain Capital, the alternative asset management and financial services company he helped co-found in 1984.

What those same observers may not realize is that Romney’s financial stake in Bain Capital just might give him a decided advantage on the radio airwaves in his quest for the GOP nomination.

Bain Capital co-owns Clear Channel Communications, whose syndicated radio personalities include conservative talk-show hosts Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, among others.

Bain Capitol teamed up with private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners to buy Clear Channel in 2008. The announcement was made just before Romney unveiled his intention to run as a candidate in that year’s GOP presidential primary. The deal for about 1,000 AM and FM stations was valued at around $25 billion, and it included dozens of television stations that later were sold off.

Clear Channel’s power to shape public discourse becomes even clearer after reading this claim on the company’s website: “With 238 million monthly listeners in the U.S., Clear Channel Media and Entertainment has the largest reach of any radio or television outlet in America.”

According to radio analyst Tom Taylor in his Jan. 12 “Taylor on Radio-Info” (TRI) newsletter at the website www.Radio-Info.com, “Nobody’s mentioned Clear Channel yet in the debate over Bain Capital’s role in the American economy. (After all, Bain has been involved in 100 or more deals.) But one TRI reader says, ‘It was a little weird watching Sean Hannity defend Bain Capital in a discussion of free-market capitalism – when I know that Bain has an interest in Hannity’s syndication company.’ That’s Clear Channel-owned Premiere (Radio Networks). It’s going to be a strange year.”

Premiere Radio Networks Inc., a subsidiary of Clear Channel, syndicates 90 radio programs and services to more than 5,000 radio affiliations and has an audience of more than 190 million listeners on a weekly basis. It’s the No. 1 radio network in the country, according to information from Clear Channel’s website www.clearchannel.com.

Over at the website www.infowars.com, Michael Snyder had this to say on Jan. 13:

“Of course, Mitt Romney is not running Bain Capital anymore. He’s a ‘retired partner,’ but he still has a huge financial stake in Bain Capital. We’re talking millions upon millions of dollars. . . . So if you have been wondering why so many conservative talk-show hosts are being so incredibly kind to Mitt Romney, this just might be the answer. In the media world, there is a clear understanding that you simply do not bite the hand that feeds you.”

Despite what seems like an insurmountable advantage on the conservative airwaves, however, Romney has received less-than-stellar endorsements from Clear Channel’s stable of radio hosts. For example, in a video clip from YouTube, Limbaugh was quoted on his radio show in early February as saying,

“Romney is not a conservative. He is not, folks. You can argue with me all day long on that, but he isn’t. You know that the Republican establishment’s trying to nail this down and end it. You know that’s what’s happening, and I know that you don’t want that to happen, and neither do I.”

But not all of what’s being said to boost Romney by Clear Channel’s stable of broadcasters is resonating with conservative listeners. At the website www.zimbio.com, a blogger who goes by one name, Clay, had this to say in a Feb. 5 post about Savage:

“You know, I have lost a lot of respect for Michael Savage these past few weeks. I really didn’t think he was part of the conservative talk radio mafia controlled by the establishment, but I guess I was wrong. I always saw Savage as a free thinker, never fearing controversy to make a point. Then I started hearing him endorse Mitt Romney, claiming Romney was the only candidate who could beat (President Barack) Obama while ignoring Romney’s record on gun control, taxes, big government spending, and of course Romneycare (Obamacare). Now I may be learning why Savage has bowed down to Romney. It appears Romney owns Savage – literally.”

Still, with the influence that Clear Channel wields among listeners nationwide, it’s hard to make a case that the playing field is level for the other GOP presidential candidates.

“Think about that the next time you’re flipping channels on the radio and realize that Rush Limbaugh calls the candidates ‘Romney’ ‘Non-Romney’ and ‘Looney’ ” noted Delaware elections manager Angel Clark in a story detailing the connections between Romney, Bain Capital and Clear Channel. “Why do these other candidates get called ‘Non-Romney’?”